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Governments expand gTLD objection shortlist

Kevin Murphy, April 2, 2013, Domain Policy

With the start of its meetings in Beijing just a couple of days away, ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has handed out clues as to which new gTLDs it might object to.
The GAC says that 20 specific bids have already been put forward by one government as potential recipients of GAC Advice, but that there are nine broad categories of concern.
Some of the categories seem to obviously apply to certain narrow types of gTLD, while others are broad enough to catch almost any bid the GAC doesn’t like the look of.
Any application that receives adverse GAC Advice at the end of the Beijing meeting faces, at the very least, a prolonged approval process along the lines of what .xxx had to endure.
The worst-case scenario is rejection of the bid by the ICANN board of directors.
These are the GAC’s categories, along with some educated guesses about which strings they could apply to:

  • “Consumer protection” — could apply to anything, depending on how well-lobbied the GAC has been by a particular interest group. Any gTLD that could implausibly be argued to increase the risk of counterfeiting may show up here. A liberal interpretation could well capture .music or sports-related strings.
  • “Strings that are linked to regulated market sectors, such as the financial, health and charity sectors” — Dozens of applications, such as those for .lawyer, .doctor, .health .bank, and .charity — will fall into this category.
  • “Competition issues” — This most likely applies to applications for category-killer dictionary words where the applicant is already a dominant player in the relevant market, such as Google’s bid for .search or Amazon’s for .book.
  • “Strings that have broad or multiple uses or meanings, and where one entity is seeking exclusive use” — Again, this could apply to the many controversial “closed” gTLD applications.
  • “Religious terms where the applicant has no, or limited, support from the relevant religious organisations or the religious community” — I suspect that the the Vatican’s application for .catholic is less at risk than a Turkish company’s bid for .islam. Any Islam-related domains are likely to fail the “support” test, given the lack of centralized control over the religion.
  • “Minimising the need for defensive registrations” — A category that seems to have been specially created for .sucks.
  • “Protection of geographic names” — Most probably will be used to kill off DotConnectAfrica’s application for .africa and Patagonia Inc’s application for .patagonia. But will Amazon’s dot-brand bid also fall foul?
  • “Intellectual property rights particularly in relation to strings aimed at the distribution of music, video and other digital material” — If the GAC buys into the lobbying and believes that an unrestricted .music or .movie gTLD would increase piracy, expect objections to some of those bids. The GAC doesn’t have to provide a shred of evidence to support its Advice at first, remember, so this is not as ludicrous a possibility as it sounds.
  • “Support for applications submitted by global authorities” — This is a newly added category. If the GAC is proposing to submit advice in support of one application in a contention set, there’s no mechanism ICANN can use to ensure that he supported applicant wins the set. The Advice may turn out to be useless. Certain sports-related applications are among those with “global authority” backing.
  • “Corporate Identifier gTLDs” — Not, as this post originally speculated, dot-brands. Rather, this applies to the likes of .inc, .corp, .llc and so on.
  • “Strings that represent inherent government functions and/or activities” — Expect military-themed gTLDs such as .army and .navy to feature prominently here. Could also cover education and healthcare, depending on the government.

The GAC also plans to consider at least 20 specific applications that have been put forward as problematic by one or more governments, as follows:

Community name where the applicant does not have support from the community or the government: 1
Consumer protection: 2
Name of an Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO): 1
Protection of geographic names: 9
Religious terms: 2
Strings applied for that represent inherent government functions and/or activities: 3
Support for applications submitted by global authorities: 2

ICANN plans to formally approve the first batch of new gTLDs, with much ceremony, at an event in New York on April 23, but has said it will not approve any until it has received the GAC’s Advice.
The GAC is on the clock, in other words.
While it’s been discussing the new gTLDs on private mailing lists since last year’s Toronto meeting, it’s already missed at least self-imposed deadline. The information released today was due to be published in February.
While the ICANN Beijing meeting does not officially begin until next Monday, and the rest of the community starts its pre-meeting sessions at the weekend, the GAC starts its closed-session meetings this Thursday.

Nutty DotConnectAfrica gives DI a good kicking

Kevin Murphy, March 2, 2013, Gossip

New gTLD applicant DotConnectAfrica is not happy with DI, again.
The nutty .africa applicant took issue with a recent post describing the company as “nutty” and trying to make sense of a rambling conspiracy-laden letter it had sent to the US Congress.
As a reminder, DCA is competing with South Africa’s ccTLD registry operator UniForum, which has the support of African governments and the African Union, for the .africa gTLD.
DCA has been in denial about the fact that its application is doomed for many months, scrabbling for any opportunity to cling to its .africa dream, and DI is its latest windmill.
DCA requested that I publish its lengthy “rejoinder” to our last blog post here, so I have, albeit interspersed with my own commentary.
I apologize in advance for leaving DCA’s formatting intact.

Dear Mr. Kevin Murphy,
Subject: Our Rejoinder to your article on DCA’s Complaint to U.S. Congress
The attention of DotConnectAfrica (DCA) Trust has been drawn to your recent Blog article with the title: ‘Nutty DCA Complains to US Congress about .Africa’ (http://domainincite.com/11958-nutty-dca-complains-to-us-congress-about-africa).
Even though you have continued to demonstrate your penchant for biased and negative reporting against DCA Trust, we think that the use of the pejorative ‘nutty’ is uncalled for and shows your disrespect and disdain for our organization and we believe you owe us an apology.

I don’t believe an apology is required.
DCA is the laughing stock of the industry, a status it will continue to hold until its .africa bid is killed off a few weeks from now.
“Nutty” is a generous, whimsical way to describe the company’s recent antics, which have included:

  • nuttily wasting >$185,000 on a gTLD application that has no chance of being approved,
  • nuttily applying for the wrong gTLD (.dotafrica),
  • using fake online identities to make it appear that DCA has grass-roots support for its nutty ideas,
  • throwing around nutty allegations of “wholesale illegality” without a) specifying what laws have been broken b) by whom and c) presenting any credible evidence to back up the allegations,
  • overabundant use of bold text, underlined text, colored text and font changes to distract from the fact that its nutty missives lack substance — a tactic favored by online conspiracy theorists since the dawn of the ‘net.

In short, if you think “nutty” is bad, trust me when I say it was the least antagonistic adjective I could come up with.

However, even though we already feel a sense of righteous indignation by your mocking tone and the fact that you have openly engaged in unnecessary name-calling simply to aggravate DCA Trust; we are actually more interested in setting the records straight for the benefit of your readers, and wish only to focus on the substantive issues in this rejoinder.
You cannot write to deliberately misrepresent the facts contained in our letter
to the 113th United States Congress. For example, you have stated that “according to information in Bekele’s letter, the AU wanted an experienced, Africa-based registry operator to run the TLD, and UniForum, which runs South Africa’s .za ccTLD, was the only qualified candidate.”
Wrong – Not DCA’s View to say Uniforum is Only qualified candidate
First, this is not our view, therefore you cannot put words into our mouth, and we do not agree that UniForum was the only qualified candidate to run .Africa. This is not the viewpoint conveyed in our letter to the United States Congress. We only attempted to re-state what is contained in a draft unpublished report on the ‘unofficial history’ of DotAfrica that was written by Ms. Rebecca Wanjiku, a Kenyan journalist and member of the DotAfrica Registry Project Team under the contrived ‘Africainonespace’ structure (http://www.africainonespace.org/); who had purportedly interviewed Mr. Vika Mpisane, then Chairperson of the AfTLD.

My blog post, as DCA accurately quotes, said “according to information in Bekele’s letter”. The “information in Bekele’s letter” is the text she quoted from Wanjiku’s “draft unpublished report”.
I would have cited the report itself but, as DCA says, it’s unpublished.
In a nutshell, Wanjiku reported that the AU endorsed UniForum because it “wanted African ccTLDs to play a crucial role in implementing .Africa” and that UniForum was the only African ccTLD with an EPP registry.

This interview revealed to us that no tender process actually took place, because the name of UniForum was simply put forward by the AfTLD, and this was accepted by the African Union Commission (AUC). This peculiar transaction as recorded in Rebecca Wanjiku’s account apparently contradicts the official AUC position that there was an open and transparent tender process which “attracted both local and international registries interested in managing dotAfrica gTLD.”

Only a nutty reading of the Wanjiku extract suggests that “no tender process actually took place”.
The existence of the African Union’s November 2011 .africa RFP is not open to question. It’s a matter of public record.
You can still download it here.
DCA is on record acknowledging the RFP at the time it was published, ranting: “DCA has decided not to participate in this sham RFP process and also urges prospective bidders to also avoid the RFP.”
And now DCA is openly questioning whether the tender process even happened? Nutty, nutty, nutty.

Therefore, our contention is that UniForum ZA Central Registry, the other competing applicant for .Africa gTLD is the beneficiary of wholesale illegality in the process of winning the endorsement of the African Union (AU) Commission for the .Africa geographic Top-Level Domain name. This is clearly spelt out in our letter to the U.S. Congress and it does not need any further elaboration or an extra-ordinary effort on the part of any educated person to read it several times to understand what DCA Trust is saying.

Everything DCA produces reads like it was written by Google Translate, run through an overenthusiastic thesaurus, then published by a computer science undergraduate in 1995. In my opinion.
I finished reading its letter to Congress wondering: who did the illegal stuff? What was the illegal stuff they did? What laws were broken? Where? When? Is it worth my time even asking?
Given that DCA wants Congressional intervention, one would expect it to state what the alleged illegal acts were, but it doesn’t. It just says “wholesale illegality” and leaves it at that.
It’s my view that the real reason DCA is pissed off is that, having failed to win the support of African ccTLDs, the AU’s 2011 RFP pretty much excluded DCA from getting the AU’s endorsement.
The company lacked the expertise, experience and the support of African ccTLD operators that the RFP specifically asked for and weighted in its scoring criteria.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in African procurement law, but I’d guess that the AU would be unlikely to publish such criteria in an open RFP document if such criteria were illegal.
That’s why, in my view, DCA throws around terms like “wholesale illegality” without getting into specifics. As soon as one look at specifics, its argument melts away like warm Nutella.
It may have been unfair, from DCA’s perspective, for the AU to require a competent partner for .africa, but if the alternative was a company that would do something nutty like, I dunno, apply for the wrong string…

Deliberately Obfuscating to confuse your readers
After reading your report, we believe that you have deliberately tried to obfuscate the matter to either confuse your readers or intentionally divert the attention of the global public from understanding the full import and main implications of our letter to the U.S. Congress. You cannot report that “the AU Commission, at the conclusion of its tender process, decided to support the UniForum proposal” when the available evidence profoundly suggests otherwise; that indeed, there was really no tender process. We have always challenged the AU Commission to publish the report of that Tender Process for the entire world to see. We also maintained this in our official response to the ICANN GAC Early Warning that was issued against our .Africa application.

DI has nothing to gain from obfuscating facts or confusing readers. The entire raison d’etre of the site is to do exactly the opposite.
The best way to avoid confusing readers would be to simply no longer report on DCA’s nutty pronouncements. Believe me, nothing would give me greater pleasure.

Only ICANN can determine a qualified candidate to operate .africa
Second, our fixed position is that only the ICANN can determine the “qualified candidate” to operate .Africa based on the outcome of the new gTLD program. This is not for the AfTLD or the AU to decide contrary to the dictates of the new gTLD program and the sacrosanct stipulations contained in the new gTLD Applicant’s Guidebook. By attempting to decide, as a fait accompli, the registry operator for the new .Africa gTLD, the AU acted ultra vires, and this is a clear usurpation, and an inexcusable violation, of ICANN’s roles, responsibilities, privileges and authority under the officially sanctioned new gTLD program. This is a viewpoint that we have already communicated officially to ICANN and also in our public comments posted against the .Africa new gTLD application submitted by UniForum ZA Central Registry.

Has DCA read the Guidebook?
ICANN makes it abundantly clear throughout that it will defer to governments on geographic gTLDs.
It won’t approve any geographic gTLDs that don’t have the support of the relevant government. For regions such as Africa, that support has to come from 60% of the region’s governments.
DCA presumably knows all this, and yet it nuttily applied for .africa (.dotafrica) without that government support, dooming its $185,000 application to certain failure.
UniForum, on the other hand, does have that governmental support, giving it a shot at being approved.
Does DCA honestly believe that ICANN’s board of directors will favor DCA over UniForum, ignoring the wishes of the governments of Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, D.R.Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Moroco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the African Union itself?
Good luck with that.
Even if all of Uniforum’s support were to evaporate tomorrow, DCA’s application would still be rejected under ICANN’s “sacrosanct” rules, because DCA doesn’t have government support and is unlikely to get it having spent the last year randomly accusing all those concerned of corruption and law-breaking.

Third, we have always maintained that if UniForum had been endorsed to apply on behalf of the African Community, then it should have submitted an application on behalf of the African Community and acknowledged the same community in its .Africa new gTLD bid to ICANN. We believe that UniForum, after using the African Community as ‘an excuse’ to obtain an important endorsement from the AUC, deliberately failed to acknowledge the same African Community in its bid based on the answers that it provided (or failed to provide by indicating ‘blank’) to ICANN Evaluation Question Nos. 19 and 20 in its .Africa new gTLD application. In DCA’s estimation, this is deceitful and fraudulent. If you obtain an endorsement under the pretext that you intend to, or have agreed to run and operate a geographic TLD on behalf of the African Community, then you should actually apply on behalf of this named community, to wit, the African Community.
UNIFORUM Application is Not on behalf of African Community
For further emphasis, it is necessary for one to refer to the published parts of UniForum’s application and their answers to Evaluation Question Numbers 19 and 20 to indeed verify that UniForum deliberately failed to acknowledge any Community in their official answers to ICANN. In their answer to Question No. 19 (“Is the application for a Community based TLD?”), they unequivocally stated “No”. The question No. 20 (a) – (e) which immediately follows: “(a) Provide the name and full description of the community that the applicant is committing serve”; UniForum intentionally left it blank, thus indicating that they have not actually named any community that they claim to be committing to serve in their new gTLD application for .Africa.
Your redefinition of “Community” against the rule book specifications to support UNIORUM is frivolous and mischievous
Therefore, your attempt to define ‘Big-C’ and ‘small-c’ is quite irrelevant and an unnecessary exercise in frivolity at a time that analytical and professional seriousness are called for. The AU Communiqué published in March 2012 clearly states that “the AU Commission selected UniForum SA (the ZA Central Registry Operator or ZACR), to administer and operate dotAfrica gTLD on behalf of the African community”; which you also previously acknowledged in your report of July 2012. As a matter of fact, we are actually compelled to believe that your statement that “no applicant was obliged to submit a big-C Community application under ICANN’s rules” is not only flippant but also quite mischievous.

Does DCA really not understand the difference between a “community” and a “Community gTLD application”?
I’ve attempted to explain it before and I’m not sure how to better phrase it than this: one’s a type of gTLD application and the other isn’t.
I suspect DCA does “get it” because its own application for .africa (.dotafrica) states:
DCA believes that DotAfrica does not qualify as a community-based application for two main reasons:
a) There is no clearly delineated, organized and pre-existing community that is targeted by the DotAfrica gTLD.
b) It is difficult to clearly identify who are the ‘members’ of the community, since a ‘community-definition’ of DotAfrica will restrict its use and functionality. Since ‘DotAfrica’ does not necessarily mean a TLD for ‘Africans’, it is difficult to determine the persons or entities that are considered to form the community, and the number of people or entities that make up the community.

In other words, while DCA believes .africa should not be a Community application under ICANN’s rules, it also believes that UniForum had an obligation to submit a Community application anyway? Nutty.

The actual bone of contention is that an endorsement was sought and obtained under the pretext that a Community TLD application would be submitted on behalf of the African Community. The basis cannot change after one has obtained the endorsement. DCA Trust believes that it is not your responsibility to explain why UniForum willfully reneged on the commitment that was implicit in the endorsement that it had received from the African Union Commission.

Nowhere in the African Union’s RFP for .africa does it say that the applicant must submit a Community application.
I’m not aware of any statements from UniForum to the effect that it would submit a Community application.
DCA has never provided any evidence that the AU wanted a Community application nor that UniForum promised one.
Its only tenuous scrap of evidence appears to be a press release (pdf) from the AU that announces UniForum was selected to “operate dotAfrica gTLD on behalf of the African community.”
To read that sentence as “UniForum will submit a Community application” is quite, quite nutty.
Incidentally, if UniForum did lie to the AU and other governments about submitting a Community application, it’s within the governments’ power to withdraw their endorsements at any time.

Uniforum’s Endorsement should be legally invalidated
Our position is that if UniForum has reneged in its commitment, that this fundamental issue must be forced so as to hold it accountable in order to prevent the perpetration of any acts of illegality and outright fraud over the issue of .Africa; and if this is process of accountability is not established by the African Internet Community, the African Union (and its African government member states) or ICANN, then the matter should be rightfully escalated for adjudication to the powerful United States Congress as the highest over-sighting institution of the United States Federal Government. We contend that if UniForum has been fraudulent in its application, this should legally invalidate the endorsement that it has received from the African Union Commission. This determination must be made officially by some authoritative body in order for the cause of justice to be served.
United States Congress has complete jurisdiction over the entire new gTLD program by ICANN
Our understanding is that the .Africa new gTLD is an Internet resource to be delegated by ICANN, and the same ICANN is under U.S. Federal Government Oversight by virtue of its mandate as a federal contractor handling the Internet Technical Management Functions (such as domain names and unique Internet address numbering and assignment) under the IANA Contract. It is therefore our contention that the United States Congress has complete jurisdiction over the entire new gTLD program of ICANN and this cannot be challenged (or scoffed at) by anybody without drawing the ire of Congress. DCA Trust has therefore acted correctly by recognizing the overarching authority of Congress over the entire ICANN new gTLD process and deciding on its own to undertake a necessary due process escalation of this matter to Congress. It is really not our fault if Mr. Kevin Murphy as the Domainincite Blogger lacks the intellectual acuity and analytical acumen to see this matter the same way we see it.
A Dishonest Analysis: Not even ICANN will agree with your opinion – Coomunity applications are not just “a technicality.”.
Furthermore, your explanation that “there’s no need to take advantage of the mechanism if you’re applying for a geographic string and have the necessary government support” is patently dishonest. DCA’s demand for accountability is actually pivoted on this particular point: how the government support was obtained, because the ‘community’ pretext was used by UniForum to obtain the government support from the AUC. Therefore, we believe that it is not your position to justify anything or create new definitions of what ‘community’ is about. Not even ICANN will agree with your opinion that “Community applications are just a technicality of the ICANN program, designed to give advantages to applicants that truly do have the support of a community.”
Community applications are not just “a technicality”. If UniForum claims to have both community support from the African Internet Community, and the support of African Governments, and has been selected to administer and operate a geographic TLD for the benefit of the African Community (whichever way this community is defined), then why did it not acknowledge this ‘African Community’ in its application? What is UniForum afraid of? We believe that if there is a proper accountability mechanism, then the truth regarding the actual intentions of UniForum can be fully established.
DCA cannot help with your Confusion, but we do not expect Congress NOT to be confused
Again, you have attempted to obfuscate the issues by stating in your Blog that DCA seems to deliberately confuse the process AfTLD used to back UniForum and the process the AU Commission used to select UniForum. We cannot help your confusion, since if you are confused you cannot assist your readers to properly dissect and understand what the pertinent issues are.
We do not expect Congress to be confused. Our understanding is that the process which the AfTLD used to back UniForum clearly caused the ‘No Tender Process’ that was used by the AU to select UNiForum.
For us, there is no confusion since the one connected chain remains evident for anyone to see. Our letter to Congress clearly alludes to the “illegal subversion of what was supposed to be an open and competitive tender process.”
The UNIFORUm Proposal is the same as the failed ARC, which you refereed as ‘Cuckoo Business Model’
We may recall that the African Registry Consortium (ARC) that was formed by the directors of UniForum SA sometime in 2011 had tried to solicit an expression of interest from the AfTLD: “For the provision of a domain name registry solution to the African Top Level Domain Organization (aftld) for purposes of preparing, submitting, funding and promoting a successful bid to ICANN for the dotafrica new gTLD.” (See http://africanregistry.net/index.php#endorse).
The ARC proposal had failed after DCA Trust campaigned vigorously against it as a potential Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) scam and for its ‘carpetbag opportunism’. It is the same proposal of the ARC that was pushed in the name of UniForum, and as you have also acknowledged in your write-up, “the AfTLD bid morphed into the UniForum bid.” The connection is therefore quite unmistakable, and we are not fooled. DCA Trust has always warned the African Union Commission and UniForum ZA Central Registry to beware of any irregularities over .Africa new gTLD and our position has not shifted. We are fully convinced that illegality has occurred and that an accountability mechanism must be established by the United States Congress to look into this.
Your deviation from the Truth, Professionalism and Journalistic integrity
Those who have been following the Domainincite Blog (http://www.domainincite.com) may also recall that Kevin Murphy had written about the ‘Cuckoo Business Model’ which he now thinks does not (or should not) apply in the case of UniForum.

The “Cuckoo Business Model” I once discussed referred to the practice of applying for a new gTLD that you know another company is also going to apply for, not in order to actually operate it but rather to extort money from other applicants in your contention set before withdrawing.
It obviously doesn’t apply to .africa — UniForum has no intention of dropping its application and actually wants to run the .africa registry,
DCA, on the other hand, has no chance whatsoever of getting its .africa bid approved and its best-case-scenario outcome here is getting a pay-off from UniForum.
If anything, DCA would be the cuckoo.
It sucks for DCA, which was pimping the .africa brand long before UniForum, but that’s the risk it took when it broadcast its plans to the world before it knew what the rules were going to be.

Therefore, it is our opinion that you have already deviated from the path of truth, professionalism and journalistic integrity; and by engaging in unbalanced and biased reporting against DCA Trust, you have also become quite neglectful of your scared responsibilities to the global public.

As much as I hate to make ad hominem arguments, I can’t help but point out that this is coming from the company that has been creating unconvincing fake online identities to support its nutty positioning.
Truth ain’t DCA’s strong point.

Downplaying DCA’s request for US congress intervention in serious issues
Finally, we believe that you have been rather disingenuous in your attempts to down-play the reason for DCA’s request for the intervention of the U.S. Congress. We have recommended and clearly stated in our letter that Congress should:

  • appoint a new gTLD Ombudsman that would report directly to Congress
  • should give the necessary approval and official impetus for the establishment of a new gTLD Program Ombudsman that would handle and look into different forms of grievances reported by new gTLD applicants
  • and investigate any forms of alleged irregularities and acts of illegality committed by applicants, especially of the sort that DCA Trust has outlined against its direct competitor for the .Africa gTLD, UniForum ZA Central Registry.
  • the new gTLD Ombudsman will be authorized by Congress with the powers of an Independent Counsel to investigate and adjudicate on issues of illegality that have been reported regarding new gTLD matters.

This is what we are asking Congress to do, and you cannot downplay the precedence-setting significance of this recommendation by stating whimsically that ICANN already has an Ombudsman. ICANN’s Ombudsman has no mandate to investigate alleged irregularities and acts of illegality that have been committed by new gTLD applicants.

Fair point.
Asking Congress for an independent Ombudsman was quite interesting, no matter how self-serving and unjustified the request, and perhaps I should have reported the idea in a little more detail.

We hope that you will publish this rejoinder in your Blog and give it proper visibility to ensure that your readers also have the opportunity to read our response to your article.

Sure thing.

We thank you in anticipation of your cooperation.
Yours sincerely,
DCA Public Communications Team
Nairobi, Kenya

Australia leads the charge as governments file 242 new gTLD warnings

Kevin Murphy, November 21, 2012, Domain Registries

Governments of the world have filed 242 warnings on new gTLD applications, more than half of which came from Australia.
Warnings were filed against 145 strings in total, and in most cases governments issued the same warnings against all competing applications in a given contention set.
Australia was responsible for 129 warnings, accounting for most of the 49 warnings received by Donuts.
There are some surprises in there.
Notably, there were no warnings on any of the strings related to sex, sexuality or porn.
Given the amount of effort the GAC put into advising against .xxx, this is a big shock. Either governments have relaxed their attitudes, or none were willing to single themselves out as the anti-porn country.
No government warned on .gay.
The largest single recipient of warnings, with 49, was Donuts, the largest portfolio applicant.
The most-warned application, with 17 warnings, was DotConnectAfrica’s .africa. The company is contesting the gTLD without government support, and African nations objected accordingly.
Nigeria also warned Delta Airlines about its proposed .delta dot-brand,
The string “delta” is a protected ISO 3166 sub-national place name, as Delta is likely to discover when the Geographic Names Panel delivers the results of its evaluation.
Australia objected to .capital on the same grounds.
Top Level Domain Holdings was hit with warnings from Italy and South Africa based on a lack of government support for its geographic applications .roma and .zulu.
Remarkably, Samoa warned the three applications for .website on the grounds that they would be “confusingly similar” to its own ccTLD, .ws, which is marketed as an abbreviation for “website”.
The US warned on all 31 of Radix Registry’s applications, saying that the Directi company inappropriately included an email from the FBI in its bids, suggested an endorsement when none exists.
Australia, among its 129 warnings, appears to have won itself a lot of friends in the intellectual property community.
It’s objected to .fail, .sucks, .gripe and .wtf on the grounds that they have “overly negative connotations” and a lack of “sufficient mechanisms to address the potential for a high level of defensive registrations.”
It also issued warnings to applicants planning gTLDs covering “regulated sectors”, including .accountant, .architect and .attorney, without sufficient safeguards to protect consumers.
Generic strings with single-registrant business models — such as Google’s .app and .blog bids — are also targeted by Australia on competition grounds.
Australia more than any other governments appears to be trying to use its warnings as a way to enter into talks with applicants, with a view to remedial action.
Whether this will be permitted — applicants are essentially banned from making big changes to their applications — is another matter entirely.
The full list of warnings can be found here.

GAC Early Warnings confirmed for today. Here’s what I expect to see

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee is ready to send out its Early Warnings on new gTLD applications today as scheduled, ICANN has confirmed.
The Early Warnings, which highlight applications that individual GAC members have problems with, are expected to be sent by the GAC to applicants and published by ICANN later.
Because the warnings are expected to be issued by individual governments, rather than the GAC as a whole, we could wind up seeing hundreds, due to multiple governments objecting to the same applications.
However, some governments may have decided to be conservative for precisely the same reason.
Governments won’t be able to hide behind the cloak of “GAC Advice”, as they did when .xxx was up for approval last year; the names of the governments will be on the warnings.
That’s not to say there won’t necessarily be safety in numbers. It’s possible that some warnings will be explicitly supported by multiple governments, potentially complicating applicant responses.
But which countries will provide warnings?
I’d be surprised if the US, as arguably the most vocal GAC player, does not issue some. Likewise, the regulation-happy European Commission could be a key objector.
It’s also my understanding that Australia has a raft of concerns about various applications, and has been leading much of the back-room discussion among GAC members.
Going out on a limb slightly, I’m expecting to see the warnings from Western nations concentrating largely on regulated industries, IP protection and defensive registrations.
We’re likely to see warnings about .bank and .sucks, for examples, from these governments. To a certain extent, any non-Community applications that could be seen as representing an industry could be at risk.
On the “morality” front, indications from ICANN’s public comment period are that Saudi Arabia has a great many problems with strings that represent religious concepts, and with strings that appear to endorse behavior inconsistent with Islamic law, such as alcohol and gambling.
But last time I checked Saudi Arabia was not a member of the GAC. It remains to be seen whether similar concerns will be raised by other governments that are members.
The one Early Warning we can guarantee to emerge is against .patagonia, the application from a US clothing retailer that shares its name with a region of South America.
The Argentinian government has explicitly said it will issue a warning against this bid, and I expect it to garner significant support from other GAC members.
The GAC Early Warnings stand to cause significant headaches for applicants, many of which are gearing up for a four-day US Thanksgiving weekend.
After receiving a warning, applicants have just 21 days to decide whether to withdraw their bid — receiving an 80% refund of their $185,000 application fee — or risk a formal GAC Advice objection next year.
But that’s not even half of the problem.
The GAC has indicated that it wants to be able to, effectively, negotiate with new gTLD applicants over the details of their applications after issuing its warnings.
At the Toronto meeting last month, the GAC asked ICANN to explain:

the extent to which applicants will be able to modify their applications as a result of early warnings.
[and]
how ICANN will ensure that any commitments made by applicants, in their applications or as a result of any subsequent changes, will be overseen and enforced by ICANN.

ICANN has not yet responded to these inquiries and it does not expect to do so until Thursday.
The fact is that ICANN has for a long time said that it does not intend to allow any applicant to make any material changes to their applications after submission. This was to avoid gaming.
It has since relaxed that view somewhat, by introducing a change request mechanism that has so far processed about 30 changes, some of which (such as .dotafrica and .banque) were highly material.
Whether ICANN will extend this process to allow applicants to significantly alter their applications in order to calm the fears of governments remains to be seen.
Whatever happens this even, many new gTLD applicants are entering unknown territory.

Company files for injunction against 189 new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2012, Domain Registries

Alternate root player Name.Space has sued ICANN for trademark infringement and anti-competitive behavior, saying “insiders” have conspired to keep it out of the new gTLD program.
If successful, the suit would prevent dozens of new gTLD applicants from having their applications approved.
The lawsuit, filed in California this week, follows a warning the company fired at ICANN this March.
While only ICANN is named as a defendant, the suit alleges that the new gTLD program was crafted by and is dominated by “ICANN insiders” and “industry titans”.
It wants an injunction preventing ICANN delegating any of the 189 gTLD strings that it claims it has rights to.
It also fingers several current and former ICANN directors, including current and former chairs Steve Crocker and Peter Dengate Thrush, over their alleged conflicts of interest.
Name.Space has been operating 482 diverse TLDs — such as .news, .sucks, and .mail — in a lightly used alternate root system since 1996.
Most people can’t access these zones and are unaware that they exist.
The company applied to have 118 of these strings added to the root in ICANN’s “proof of concept” gTLD expansion in 2000, when the application fee was $50,000, but was unsuccessful.
Now, the company claims the new gTLD program is “an attack on name.space’s business model and a mean by which to create and maintain market power in the TLD markets”.
The complaint (pdf) states:

Rather than adopting a procedure to account for the pending 2000 Application and facilitate the expansion of TLD providers in the DNS, ICANN has adopted a procedure so complex and expensive that it once again effectively prohibited newcomers from competing. It instead has permitted participation solely by ICANN insiders and industry titans.

If it had applied for all 118 again in this year’s round, it would have cost almost $22 million (though it would have qualified for an $83,000 discount on a single bid).
Name.Space is asking for damages and an injunction preventing ICANN from approving 189 gTLDs that match those it currently operates in its alternate root.
The full list of affected applications is attached to the complaint.

Infodump: what we learned about new gTLDs today

Kevin Murphy, August 9, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN held a webinar today in which it detailed a whole lot of the current thinking about the evaluation phase of the new gTLD program, including some new deadlines and target dates.
Senior vice president and acting program head Kurt Pritz fought through a cold to give new gTLD applicants more information and clarification than they’d received since Prague in June.
These are some of the things we learned:

  • Three applications have been withdrawn already. We don’t know which ones.
  • There have been 49 requests to change applications. Again, we don’t know which ones yet. ICANN is in the process of finalizing a threshold check to allow or deny these changes, details of which it expects to publish soon.
  • “Clarifying Questions” are the new buzzword. CQs — yes, they have an acronym — are additional questions the evaluators need to ask applicants before they can score parts of their application. The vast majority of applications are going to get at least one CQ. The two-week deadline to respond to these questions, as described in the Applicant Guidebook, will likely be ignored in many cases.
  • About 90% of applications will get a CQ about their financial status. This mainly concerns their Continuing Operations Instrument, the super-complex and expensive back-up cash commitments each applicant had to secure. But applicants who got letters of credit don’t need to panic if their banks have recently had their ratings downgraded.
  • Another 40% can expect to get questions about their technical plans. Some applicants may have relied too heavily on their back-end providers to describe their security plans, it seems.
  • About half of all geographic gTLD applications have not yet supplied letters of support from the relevant government. This was already anticipated and is accounted for by Guidebook processes however, Pritz said.
  • Don’t expect an answer to the metering question any time soon. Batching may be dead, but ICANN does not expect to figure out its replacement — a way to throttle new gTLDs’ go-live dates — until October. There’s an open comment period on this and plenty more jaw-wagging to come.
  • Objections will come before Initial Evaluation results. This sucks if you’re a likely objector. The deadline for filing objections is January 12, 2013, but evaluation results are not expected until June 2013 at the earliest. This means the much cheaper option of waiting to see if an application is rejected before paying for an objection is no longer a viable strategy. But it’s good for applicants, which will get a little more visibility into their likelihood of success and their costs.
  • Contention sets will probably be revealed in November. The String Similarity Panel, which decides which gTLDs are too similar to each other to co-exist, is not expected to give its results to ICANN until late October, four and a half months after the June 13 Reveal Day — so applicants won’t know the full size of their contention sets until probably a couple of weeks after that.
  • The new gTLD public comment period will probably be extended. After several requests, ICANN is very probably going to give everyone more time to comment on the 1,930 1,927 applications, beyond the August 12 scheduled closing date. An announcement is likely on Friday.

Congressmen say new gTLDs need more comments

Kevin Murphy, August 8, 2012, Domain Policy

Senior members of the US Congress have asked ICANN to prove that it’s giving the internet community enough opportunity to comment on its 1,930 new gTLD applications.
A letter from the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate judiciary committees sent to ICANN yesterday basically implies rather heavily that, again, ICANN’s new gTLD program outreach sucks.
Sens. Leahy and Grassley, and Reps. Smith and Conyers write:

many members of the public outside the ICANN community are unaware that the New gTLD program is underway. Of those who are aware, few know about the public comment process or comprehend that their opportunity to participate in this forum is scheduled to end in less than a week.

Probably not coincidentally, the letter comes soon after requests for more time to comment from the Association of National Advertisers and the Intellectual Property Constituency.
The IPC wants another 30-45 days added to the comment period, which is currently set to close — at least for comments that will be forwarded to evaluators — this Sunday.
The Leahy letter highlights the need for comment on “potentially sensitive names like ‘.church’, ‘.kids’, and ‘.sucks'”, which should be a cause for concern for at least seven gTLD applicants.
Given who’s pulling the strings here, it’s not surprising that the letter also highlights the demands from IP interests for stronger rights protection mechanisms, such as a permanent Trademark Clearinghouse service.
They write:

ICANN’s current policy only requires the Clearinghouse to be available for the first 60 days after a registry launches. Moreover, the Clearinghouse will only give notice when someone registers a website that is identical to a trademark; not when the website contains the trademark in a varied form.
As an example, this means that a nonprofit such as the YMCA will receive notice only if a user registers a website such as www.yrnca.give or www.ymca.charity within the first 60 days of the “.give” or” .charity” registry. The YMCA would not receive notice if a person registers those names after 60 days, or if someone registers a closely related name such as www.ymcaDC.charity.

(To which I add, as an aside: and what if Intel wants to register www.buymcafee.shop?)
I think the Congressmen/ANA/IPC have a point, anyway, at least about the lack of commenting from people outside the tightly knit ICANN community.
A lot of data was released on Reveal Day, and much more has been released since.
There are 1,930 new gTLD applications.
The public portions weigh in at almost 400 MB in HTML format and generally run to between 15,000 and 50,000 words apiece.
The 20,000 published application attachments (which MD5 hashing reveals comprise close to 3,000 unique files) are currently taking up about 6 GB of space on the DI PRO server (where subscribers can cross-reference them to see which files show up in which applications).
It’s a lot to read.
That must be at least part of the reason there hasn’t been a single community-based objection comment about Google’s single-registrant .blog application yet.
For me, that’s the benchmark as to whether anyone in the real world is paying attention to this program.
I mean, seriously: no bloggers are concerned about Google using .blog as an exclusive promo tool for its third-rate blogging platform?
What’s worrying the Congressmen is that ICANN’s expensive Independent Objector is not allowed to object to an application unless there’s been at least one negative comment about it
The IO can file community-based objections on behalf of those who cannot afford to do it themselves, but it’s not at all clear yet what the cut-off date for the IO to discover these comments is.
Hopefully, when ICANN reveals its proposed evaluation timetable this week, some of these questions will be answered.

DotConnectAfrica responds to DI .africa rant

DotConnectAfrica has published a lengthy retort to DI’s recent post about the (probably) contested .africa gTLD, in which I accused DCA of being disconnected from reality.
You can read my original post here and the DCA response here.
According to DCA, DI’s post was “unprofessional, unwarranted, and sub judice to the ICANN evaluation process”, because it pointed out that Uniforum’s competing bid for .africa stands the best chance of being approved by ICANN.
Having read DCA’s response, I stand by what I wrote.
Geographic gTLDs are governed by special rules at ICANN. They need government support. Nobody disputes this.
In the case of .africa, which covers a lot of countries, support or non-objection from 60% of the relevant governments is required. I don’t think anyone is disputing this either.
Uniforum’s application has this March 2012 letter (pdf) from the African Union Commission, which provides the AUC’s explicit, unambiguous, exclusive support to Uniforum.
Uniforum also claims to have individual support from the required 60% of nations, though I have not seen documentary evidence of this.
DotConnectAfrica, on the other hand, has a August 2009 letter from AUC chair Jean Ping, which expresses support for the DCA application.
It is this 2009 letter that DCA is relying upon to pass the geographic support test in the ICANN evaluation process. In its latest blog post, DCA said, addressing DI:

If you state openly in your Blog that our 2009 endorsement that we got from the African Union Commission does not count, then you are obviously playing the same game that was started by our detractors who have been trying all along to deny and invalidate our hard-won endorsement in order to frustrate DCA’s chances of applying for DotAfrica. It is our sacred responsibility to make sure that our early-bird endorsement from the African Union Commission counts.

In response, all I can say is: “Good luck.”
The Uniforum letter of support, which is more recent by almost three years, states that it is “the only formal endorsement provided by the African Union and its member’s states with regard to dotAfrica.”
On the other hand, the DCA letter of support was “categorically” retracted by the African Union in this May 2011 communication.
The only possible interpretation of this, in my mind, is that Uniforum has African Union backing and that DCA does not.
Unless there’s some obscure nuance of African politics that I’ve failed to comprehend, I don’t think there’s a thing DCA can do to change that fact.
It sucks for DCA, but that’s the way it is.
As for DCA’s insinuations that DI’s position has somehow been bought, I’ll just say for the record that no opinion that has ever been expressed on DI has ever been paid for by a third party.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve probably turned down somewhere in the region of $20,000 from various parties who wanted me to give them favorable coverage in exchange for payment.
That’s just not how things work around here.

Momentous’ .sucks bid “about creating dialogue”

The CEO of Momentous’ .sucks new gTLD applicant reckons smart brands will embrace the cheeky concept.
I chatted to John Berard, CEO of Momentous subsidiary Vox Populi Registry, this afternoon for a piece in The Register, and he reckons .sucks isn’t the money-grubbing scam many people will say it is.
“If some people think this is just a way to get registration money out of corporations, then those people are either unaware or are being short-sighted about their marketing effectiveness,” he said.
Berard believes smart companies nowadays are embracing social media interactions as a way to improve their marketing, and that .sucks will be a way to facilitate that.
That said, the policies governing .sucks are still not clear.
Momentous is also applying for .design, .rip and .style.

Five amusing Twitter accounts to follow

Kevin Murphy, January 29, 2012, Gossip

One of the good things about Twitter is that there’s no Whois (yet), which makes it fertile ground for pseudonymous humor.
Here are the five bogus domain humor tweeters I find amusing.
No, before you ask, none of these are me. I’ve only written one thing under a fake identity since I launched DI.
@BobRecstrum
Bob tweets in-character as a “heightened” version of ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom.
He’s basically a globe-trotting narcissist hippy with delusions of grandeur and an obsessive penchant for taking panoramic iPhone photos of himself shaking hands with world leaders.
His avatar, inexplicably, is Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox.
Bob Recstrum
@thereforeICANN
This account, which usually offers a satirical view of ICANN proceedings, typically peaks during its thrice-yearly public meetings.
Whoever is responsible for this account has clearly been around ICANN for a while – s/he goes to the meetings, reads the web site, and knows what’s coming before it happens.

@dns_borat
This one’s for the geeks. Imagine everyone’s favorite Kazakhstani roving reporter, but he’s a DNS administrator.
That’s pretty much it really.

@DotSucks
This account was only created in the last few days. I’d hazard a guess that it has links to the adult entertainment industry, due to the obvious anti-.xxx sentiment on display.
The premise, of course, is that new gTLDs are basically a massive shakedown. Shows promise.

(I’ll note that the first time I heard of .sucks back in 2000 when it was floated by then-chair of ICANN Esther Dyson, ironically now one of the new gTLD program’s highest-profile critics.)
@domainhumor
This one is slightly different for two reasons: 1) I know who it is. 2) He/she has not tweeted much funny stuff lately.
I follow it in the hope that this might change one day.